Five Business Lessons Learned from a Top Chicago Communications Firm


Running a growing and successful Chicago communications firm is neither easy nor an accident. Here are five business lessons I think are the keys to making it in this industry – and probably some others.

1. Set yourself apart.

What do you do? How do you do it? Can someone find the same capability from many other places? At my firm, our exclusive focus is on reputation – corporate, brand and leadership reputation. Building it. Protecting it. Repairing it. Nurturing it. Certainly, other firms do this, too, but this is our exclusive focus. By focusing on these areas and hiring top talent that delivers the highest levels of client service, we distinguish ourselves. How can you distinguish yourself?

2. Focus on financials.

It’s always been important to me to prioritize the financial aspect of our business. If you aren’t profitable and growing, you can’t sustain your growth, give people raises or invest in technology.  If you ensure your team is appropriately billable, setting and adhering to client budgets, generating timely invoices, and promptly collecting fees, you have the core elements in place to be successful.

It’s also important for us, as a Chicago communications firm with an office in Milwaukee, to avoid over-servicing clients. To be sure, we do make the decision from time to time to invest some additional time for the sake of the project or client.  But, you can’t let this become a habit.  Almost every communications firm comes up with a budget. However, if your budgets are unrealistic and invoicing and collections are not timely, then you can get into trouble. Have you made your financial operations a priority?

3. Be a partner, don’t just say ‘yes.’

The best client relationships in any industry stem from real partnerships. Partnerships that involve smart clients who know their businesses and strategic partners who work to identify the best solutions. From our perspective, a key part of that relationship involves telling clients what we think they need to hear, even if it’s not necessarily what they want to hear. In my experience, clients really value candor. If they’ve worked with other agencies, then they’ve most likely worked with people who are just order-takers or go along to avoid rocking the boat.  If you work at a communications firm, are you candid with your clients or not so much?

4. Reputation, much like Rome, isn’t built in a day.

Reputation management takes time. Brand perceptions aren’t developed overnight, and they tend to change much more slowly than they’re established. Certainly, if an organization does something that’s egregiously wrong (or perceived to be) that change happens rapidly. Redirecting that momentum into something better is a much larger investment. There have been times when clients wanted to hire us to improve their reputation, but they were only willing to spend three months doing it. That’s just not enough time.

5. Stay on top of trends.

While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s worth emphasizing. I think successful companies stay on top of (and, when they can, even ahead of!) client, agency, industry and communication trends. If you can’t anticipate trends (and many of us can’t), then you need to at least be an early adopter. Don’t be the last one to realize a shift in your own industry.  Are you following the trends in your industry and acting to stay current with them?

Reputation Partners, like many firms throughout the industry, recognized that the communications landscape was becoming more visually and digitally focused.  We adapted accordingly. In our case, we jumped at the opportunity to invest in extensive creative and digital capabilities. Through the acquisition of Words&Pictures, we’ve transformed into a full-service Chicago communications firm, with an office in Milwaukee. In addition to our public relations services, we now offer in-house video, web, design and social media capabilities that keep us competitive within this ever-changing industry.

No matter what industry you’re in, your reputation can be the difference between success and failure. In my experience, these five lessons can help any company develop the edge it needs to achieve its goals. But, if you find you need that extra boost, feel free to give us a call.